Page images

So have I seen the earth, strong winds detaining

In prison close, they scorning to be under Her dull subjection, and her power disdaining,

With horrid strugglings tear their bonds asunder; Meanwhile the wounded earth, that forc'd their stay With terror reels,--the hills run far away ;The frighted world fears hell breaks loose upon the day.

But see how 'twixt her sister and her sire,

Soft-hearted Mercy sweetly interposing, Settles her panting breast against his fire,

Pleading for grace, and chains of death unloosing; Hark! from her lips the melting honey flows, The striking thunderer suspends his blows, And every armed soldier down his weapon throws.

So when the day, wrapt in a cloudy night,

Puts out the sun; anon the rat’ling hail
On earth pours down his shot with fell despite;

His power spent, the sun puts off his veil,
And fair his flaming beauties now unsteeps ;
The ploughman from his bushes gladly peeps;
And hidden traveller out of his covert creeps.

Ah! fairest maid !best essence of thy father,

Equal unto thy never equallid sire!
How in low verse shall thy poor shepherd gather

What all the world can ne'er enough admire?
When thy sweet eyes sparkle in cheerful light,
The brightest day grows pale as leaden night,
And heav'ns bright burning eye loses his blinded


Who then those sacred strains can understand,

Which calm'd thy father, and our desperate fears, And charm’d the nimble lightning from his hand,

That unawares it dropt in melting tears ? Thou, thou, dear swain ! thy heav'nly load unfraught, For she herself hath thee her speeches taught, So near her heav'n they be, so far from human thought.

Twice, in the course of this beautiful passage, did the affectionate bard refer in notes, “ to that sweet poem entitled Christ's Victory," to which, bidding him finally and reluctantly farewell, we now address ourselves.

The“ Christ's Victory and Triumph” of Giles Fletcher, as it is certainly the first poem on a sacred subject in the English language worthy of notice, so is it even now one of the best,—which is not perhaps very exalted praise, for with one or two exceptions every subsequent attempt of the same kind has been little better than a complete failure. Fletcher's poem is conceived in a spirit of genuine piety, and composed in a corresponding strain of elevated poetry; the personifications are equal to the best of Sackville's or Spenser's; the metaphors, most of which have been given, are beautiful and appropriate; there are passages of great subliimity, and the general tone of the whole is worthy of the sacred muse. Notwithstanding this the poem fails to create interest, or excite sympathy, and most readers who take it up to be gratified with the perusal, will probably lay it down with feelings of disappointment. It will be read only with pleasure by the poetic student, and by those who having been long familiar with


the peculiarities of the age in which it was composed, are prepared to make due allowance for defective taste, and can distinguish merit amidst every kind of blemish and defect.

The faults of Fletcher's poem are partly of the subject, and partly of the writer. If Phineas was unfortunate in selecting anatomy as the ground-work of his poem, bis brother was not happy in making choice of the mysterious facts connected with the establishment of the Christian faith. Much talent has been wasted in all ages in the attempt to decorate the mysteries of religion with the flowers of verse ; it is one of those errors in judgment which modern poets have borrowed from their masters of old, and they have applied it to the doctrines of Christianity without duly considering how much less capable they are of poetic embellishment than the absurdities of the ancient polytheism. The gods of Greece interest us only, when used as poetic agents, by the close resemblance they bear to men in all the incidents which poets have chosen to adopt; for assuredly the only legitimate fountain of poetry is man, in his present state of enjoyment and Buffering. Even the beauties and sublimities of external nature require to be connected with the destinies of mankind to fit them for the poet's use. The perfume of the violet, the song of the nightingale, the beauty of the landscape, are poetical only in association with human enjoyment: with the sublimity of the storm, we connect the horrors of the shipwreck; with inclement seasons, the sufferings of the exposed and indigent; with the grandeur of Alpine scenery, the dangers of the traveller, and the emotions it excites in the mind of the spectator. This connection, to bo

poetical, must be immediate and certain,-not remote, or contingent. The mysteries of religion, as they apply to man, are connected only with a future state of his existence; they are designed by the great author of our being, as exercises of our faith, not as subjects of our comprehension; they are definite, not liable to change, or capable of embellishment; and consequently, they fail to produce poetic interest,-by being placed out of the pale of human suffering or enjoyment,-by being incomprehensible to human reasoning, -and by being already familiar to the mind, and known as far as a knowledge of them can be attained.

Nothing but the undue influence of authority, and the example of great names, could have produced or tolerated the poetic licenses which have been taken with the sacred records. All that we are permitted to know of the divine agents in the Christian system of religion, is confined to the letter of revelation, and it is nothing short of profanation to invest them with poetic ornaments, or apply them to the irreverend creations of poetic fiction. The time will come, nay perhaps now is, when this be no more permitted. They are unfit for poetry by their essence, and should have been secured from it by the sanctity of their character.

The great fault of Giles Fletcher's poem is its obscurity; it is even difficult without a reference to the argument prefixed, to comprehend at all times the poet's meaning. The minor faults are those peculiar to his time; he seeks eagerly for antithesis ; overloads his subject with ornaments and comparisons,-is not sufficiently select in his choice of words and phrases, is pedantic and prolix,—and occasionally, but not generally, harsh and inharmonious.

The first part entitled “ Christ's Victory in Heaven," commences with proposing the subject, and invoking the assistance of the Holy Spirit, The judgment seat of God is then shortly described in the following stanza :

There is a place beyond that flaming hill,

From whence the stars their thin appearance shed, A place beyond all place, where never ill,

Nor impure thought was ever harboured ;

But saintly heroes are for ever said
To keep an everlasting sabbath's rest!
Still wishing that of which they are possess'd;
Enjoying but one joy, but of all joys the best!

Slight allusion is then made to the fallen state of man, and Mercy is described as interceding with God for his forbearance:

But Justice had no sooner Mercy seen

Smoothing the wrinkles of her father's brow, Than

up she starts, and throws herself between : As when a vapour from a moory slough

Meeting with fresh Eöus, that but now
Open'd the world which all in darkness lay,
Doth heav'ns bright face of his rays disarray,
Aud sads the smiling orient of the springing day.

She was a virgin of austere regard :

Not as the world esteems her, deaf and blind; But as the eagle that hath oft compar'd

Her eye with heav'n, so, and more brightly shin'd

Her lamping sight; for she the same could wind
Into the solid heart, and with her ears
The silence of the thought loud speaking hears :
And in one hand a pair of even scales she bears.

« PreviousContinue »